When a criminal threatened to kill Megan Cash if she testified against him, she didn’t back down. Years later, he’s out of jail and ready for revenge against Megan and her daughter. The only one who can protect them is the former FBI agent who broke Megan’s heart.
But Reid Morgan isn’t the same man—he’s now a widowed father with a harrowing past. . .and a heart more guarded than ever. Still, he’s the only one who believes Megan when she says she’s in danger. Because someone wants to make this a Christmas she won’t live long enough to forget.
Icy-cold fear slid over Megan Cash. She’d imagined this day. How she’d imagined it.
Terrifying, breath stopping, the man who’d held her at gunpoint during a bank robbery coming back into her life. Now he was here, striding across the gas station lot, heading toward her car. Had he seen her? Worse yet, followed her to make good on his threat?
Averting her face, she considered flooring the gas pedal and fleeing, but where could she go?
Two cars in front. One behind. Three at the island to the side. All with nozzles feeding gas tanks. She was trapped unless she wanted to jump from the car and take off running, making herself even more of a target.
C’mon, Megan. Deep breaths. Maybe it’s not him.
She’d seen him hundreds of times in the twelve years since she’d testified against him. The pockmarked face with the long jaw jutted out in anger, a tattered Tacoma Rainiers baseball cap snug on his head and hiding long dishwater blond hair, thinning in the back.
Hundreds of times she’d been wrong. Had to be wrong. He occupied a federal prison cell for robbing the bank where she’d worked. But today was different. He’d served his twelve-year sentence and could be free.
A hard knocking on the window startled her, dropping her heart to her stomach.
“You want gas or what, lady?” the attendant’s voice shot through the open window.
She’d make a small purchase so she didn’t draw attention to herself. When the cars in front of her moved, she’d race away. She fished through her wallet and withdrew her credit card. Keeping her face averted, she slid it through the gap at the top of her window.
“Ten dollars. Regular.” She shrank back and watched in the mirror as he went to pump her gas.
Who knew Oregon’s law forbidding consumers to pump gas might save her life. With Fowler advancing across the lot, her car provided better cover than standing next to the pumps.
“Hey, dude,” she heard her attendant call out.
Was he talking to Fowler? If so, maybe this meeting was just a coincidence.
She risked a quick peek and spotted the sharp profile of the lunatic who terrorized her in the bank, chatting with the string bean of an attendant on the far side of the pumps.
A shudder of revulsion swept through her body, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him. Not yet. Not until she was certain he was the man she’d stared at for the three long hours he’d held her hostage at the bank.
She didn’t know why he’d singled her out, but as the FBI negotiated with him, he’d traded the other hostages for supplies and transportation. But not her. No, he decided to take her with him when he fled.
His angry eyes declared he wouldn’t hesitate to kill her when he no longer needed her. So in a moment of distraction, she grabbed a letter opener from the desk, plunged it into his thigh and fled for her life. A sniper had taken him down, and he blamed her for his injury. He threatened to get even once he was free again.
“What time you off?” he asked the attendant.
“Six,” the attendant answered.
“Wanna get a drink to celebrate my freedom?”
Fowler’s raspy voice was seared into her memory, but this guy’s tone was less grating. Maybe age had changed the timbre. Or her mind could be playing tricks on her.
Was this even Fowler? Physical appearance changed a lot in twelve years.
Her gas pump clicked off and the attendant walked to the rear of her car. Fowler followed. She jerked her head away and held her hand to the side of her face.
“I dunno, man,” the attendant said as she heard him latching the nozzle into the pump. “I’m not supposed to associate with you.”
“Don’t be a sissy,” Fowler answered, the voice similar to the one he’d used at the bank. “I’ll be at our usual spot. McMenamins at six. Be a man for once and show up.”
Fowler laughed and her mind raced over the memories of him standing over her. The baseball cap pulled low over his hard eyes. Sadistic grin on his face. His gun aimed at her heart.
Fear skipped along her nerve endings. Too bad God didn’t hear her prayers anymore or she’d pray. But He didn’t listen. Even when the prayers were for her daughter Ella.
Ella. Precious Ella. Lying helpless in a hospital bed. Chemotherapy weakening her immune system.
Hot tears filled Megan’s eyes. She took a cleansing breath to keep them at bay. Gasoline fumes irritated her airway, but she wouldn’t cough and draw attention to herself. She’d survived the terror inflicted by Fowler once. She could do it again. This time for Ella. She had no one else to protect her.
Megan heard someone approaching her window. Hoped it was the attendant.
“Here you go, lady. Merry Christmas.” The holiday greeting was as lackluster as the sagging garland on the pumps.
She reached for her card.
He released it and walked away. “I’ll be there, man, but only one drink.”
Fowler laughed again, but the taunting sound drifted away as if he was heading back to his pickup.
C’mon, hurry up. Drive away.
The cars in front of her slowly pulled out, but she sat, watching until Fowler roared to the exit.
He was leaving. She was safe. He turned right on the road leading to the hospital. Wait. Toward the hospital? Did he know about Ella or was she just being paranoid?
Maybe he pretended not to see Megan to make her think he didn’t care about her anymore, so she’d relax and become an easier target. That seemed logical. The city of Portland was too big for such a chance meeting. They were near her home, and the hospital. He could’ve followed her when she left Ella at the hospital to go home for Boo Boo bear.
Or had his truck been at the station when she’d driven in? Was it even Fowler?
Now she wasn’t sure. Memories could do funny things.
Maybe she had mistaken his identity. After all, the Department of Justice’s Victim Notification Service should have contacted her about his release, and she hadn’t heard from them. But she hadn’t been home to take the call. She needed to call their hotline. Later. After she was certain Ella was okay.
Hand still shaking, Megan fumbled with the ignition. She finally revved the car and peeled out of the lot in hot pursuit of the truck. She raced down the festively decorated streets above the speed limit, and in a few minutes she careened to a stop next to a white pickup parked in the visitor lot.
Giving the truck a quick once-over, she climbed from her car. Looked like the same vehicle from the gas station, but she couldn’t be positive it was Fowler’s truck. Pulse ratcheting up, she jumped out and pressed her hand on the hood.
Warm. Hot, actually. As if the engine had recently been turned off.
Her heart pounded wildly against her sternum as she ran for the lobby, charged across the open space and around a brightly decorated Christmas tree with colorful packages stacked below.
No time to wait for the elevator car to descend. Ella’s room was only two floors up.
Her mind flooding with terrible possibilities, Megan took the stairs two at a time and pulled open the heavy fire door. In the hallway, she picked up speed again and made a hard right turn into the corridor leading to Ella’s room.
Megan slammed into a nurse, and they both tumbled to the hard tile. She rolled and peered down the hall.
Fowler stood outside Ella’s room, his back to her, his hand pressed to an open door.
Megan let her voice spiral into an ear-piercing scream.
Fowler spun. His hot, ugly eyes met her gaze. A knowing smirk slid across his face before he turned and walked away, taking with him all hope that Megan had arrived in time to save her daughter.